Francine Farkas Sears: A Woman Who Shines
“I’m an entrepreneur, and it all started when I was 8 years old and a Girl Scout.”
Decades before internationally-known business icon Francine Farkas Sears began smashing glass ceilings with her successful women’s bags and cases design companies, she took her first entrepreneurial steps going door-to-door in the Bronx, New York, selling Girl Scout cookies.
“Both my parents were immigrants that were so proud that I had a Girl Scout uniform that felt so American,” says Francine. “I started out selling out Girl Scout cookies, and I attribute a lot to that entrepreneurship; and what I learned and how I was welcomed. I sold cookies from door to door – I was rebuffed; I was accepted. And we only had three different cookies!”
Growing up, Francine feels fortunate to also have had her dad as a role model and mentor.
“My dad was a businessman. He would take me on business trips with him.”
Francine is currently president of Branford-Guilford-based Francine Collections Ltd (www.francinecollections.com) and Women in Business (WIB) Ltd (https://wibbags.com/). Both women’s business enterprises design and produce beautiful women’s laptop cases, luggage, and accessories.
“I want women to really be able to feel good when they walk into a meeting. The styles we create are practical and necessary [while] giving them confidence and fashion,” says Francine. “Walk into that room like you belong there. We make bags that make women look like they belong there... I’m really proud of what we do.”
Francine has also come full circle by recently returning to her Girl Scout origins. Beginning in 2021, WIB for Francine Collections began working with Girl Scouts of the USA as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) vendor, including designing 74 clothing and accessory pieces for Girl Scouts of the USA, to date. The youthful and highly popular designs appear on her company website, and in posts on its social media platforms (@FrancineCollections).
“I wanted to do something for little girls because this inspired me. The collection has our heart in it,” says Francine.
Always one to give back to her communities, Francine has become well-known on the shoreline for lending her exceptional support to non-profits including CT Hospice in Branford, thanks to a connection she credits to friend and interim CT Hospice CEO Barbara Pearce.
Francine has also helped to deliver tens of thousands of dollars in support to non-profit Community Dining Room Inc., among other local philanthropic assists, through a series of her designer bag and cases sample sales held at her Branford warehouse periodically over the past 10 years.
At the start of the pandemic, when medical-grade facial masks were virtually unavailable and desperately needed, Francine reached out to her business connections in Asia — where she made history, in 1972, as the first American businesswoman invited to China after President Nixon re-established trade relations. In 2020, collaborating with Branford friend and co-philanthropist, Karen Pritzker, Francine was able to procure 20,000 FDA-approved KN95 masks, which were imported and raced to inner-city hospitals in New York and Connecticut.
“Karen said, ‘If you can get them to America, I'm your partner.’ We flew in 20,000. We were able to provide gear for hospital workers and patients at that time when it was really critical,” says Francine.
For Francine’s exceptional efforts during the pandemic, and as one who has spent a lifetime mentoring girls and women, and, by example, shared the values of confidence, courage, and hard work, as well as the importance of philanthropy, Francine will be one of three women honored with a prestigious Girl Scouts of CT “Women Who Shine” award. The award will be presented during the 26th Annual Breakfast Badge Awards fundraiser in Hartford on Thursday, Dec. 8.
As described by Diana Mahoney, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of CT, “...these extraordinary women are brilliant leaders who created original programs that helped mitigate serious issues during the pandemic and have made a positive impact on the Connecticut community. They have each become beacons of light during a very dark time in our state’s history.”
For Francine, accepting the award is an opportunity to help promote the importance of supporting the work of Girl Scouts. She hopes to inspire philanthropy in others to benefit what she feels is an important, formative organization that certainly made a difference in her life.
“If you want to see the future of young girls go further and further like I have — I’ve had five different companies, I’ve lived in 5 different countries,” please donate to Girl Scouts, says Francine. “I started out in the Bronx ... and here we are.”
Local History, Business History
Up until 2020, Francine was a Branford resident of 41 years, during which time she was also president of Fabrique, the company she founded in 1979. Francine built Fabrique into a world leader as an OEM producing carry cases and related accessories for top technology companies. In 1988, Francine also founded WIB Laptop Bags, for which she still serves as president.
For 41 years, Francine operated her companies locally, based at her Flying Point Road home and design studio in Stony Creek. After selling Fabrique in August of 2020, Francine moved to her new home and design studio in Sachem’s Head in Guilford while also retaining an office at a location Stony Creek.
Now, at age 82, she’s enjoying the growth of her newest company, Francine Collections Ltd, which she founded in August 2020.
“I’ve gone from a staff of 800 to eight; and I’m back to designing, back to where I’m doing what I love to do,” says Francine. “Sometimes, when you have these bigger jobs, you can’t do what you want. Now, I’m back to doing what I want; with a great team of young designers and people that work for me.”
She’s happy to share the secret to her success and longevity as a leader in her field, and as one who stays inspired and hopes to inspire others.
“I just love life. I love designing wonderful things. I love the idea of being part of something that's the future of our country,” says Francine. “I just love this country; I love what we do. I love our towns. Just get excited; never say no — never give up.”
To make a donation to Girls Scouts of Connecticut, visit their website at www.gsofct.org